400 bodies found in unmarked graves in South River
SOUTH RIVER —County authorities have used modern technology to prove what's been suspected for decades through local lore.
As many as 400 people were buried without markers in a section of Washington Monumental Cemetery. Experts believe many of these people died during the devastating 1918 flu epidemic that killed 50 million around the world.
While most of the cemetery looks like many other local burial grounds, there is one part of the property that has no grave markers. Middlesex County historical experts brought in a ground penetrating radar survey that turned up "rows of unmarked graves," where they found the hundreds of burials, according to a statement from the county.
By using the radar, authorities have found what they believe are the bodies of both adults and children. While they can't say that all the deaths were from the flu, county authorities believe many of the people who died at that time were buried at that site.
"At the height of the epidemic, a quarantine was issued for South River and its surrounding towns," said Mark Nonestied of the Middlesex County Office of Arts and History. "In many communities they died so quickly that hearses and coffins were in demand."
County officials shared a picture from 1918 showing a beer wagon being used to move a pine coffin to the cemetery. There is a caption on the picture saying that the demand for caskets was so great that carpenters worked around the clock to fill the need.
"As we continue to research this piece of county history, we will endeavor to restore the names and stories of the residents buried here, as we are able," Freeholder Kenneth Armwood said. "Their stories deserve to be heard, and any living relatives should know that they are not forgotten."
The research was a combined effort with the South River Historical and Preservation Society and the Washington Monumental Cemetery and was funded by the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders and the New Jersey Historical Commission, Department of State. More information can be found by searching #uncoveringmiddlesex on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The county is encouraging anyone with information about the cemetery to call the Office of Arts and History at 732-745-3030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.